O Changeless Christ

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is ‘O Changeless Christ, forever new’ by Timothy Dudley-Smith. Unusually for one of his hymns it is set to an old (early 19th century) tune.

The changelessness of Christ is invoked in the first verse to ‘draw our hearts as once you drew the hearts of other days’ and in the last to ‘bring us home, to taste at last the timeless joys of heaven’. Other verses ask him to teach us as he taught the people of his own day, still troubled hearts as he stilled the storm, heal today as he did then, and to make himself known in the bread and wine of Communion.  

While there is truth in saying that Christ is changeless, that can all too often be used as an excuse to resist change in the Church.  The ways that the ‘Early Church’ (or for that matter the Church of 17th century England) taught and worshipped don’t have to remain unchanged. The often-asked question ‘What would Jesus do?’ appeals to the changeless elements of his teaching (love God, love your neighbour, bring hope and healing in his name) but should not be used to oppose those who seek change in patterns of worship or more acceptance of people whose lifestyles diverge from what is seen as the Christian ideal.  We have to work out the application of Scripture in our own generation while not losing sight of the core of the Gospel message. 

Christ be Lord of all our days

6th Century icon of Christ Pantocrator
Unknown author / Wikimedia Commons (Public domain)

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is “Christ be the Lord of all our days” by Timothy Dudley-Smith.  John indicated that it was originally written with the tune ‘Repton’ (‘Dear Lord an Father’) and used that instead of tune ‘Cloth Fair’ in the book.

As the first word hints, this is all about Christ.  Each verse focuses on one aspect of his relationship with us. The first, ‘Lord of all our days … of our unremembered birth … of our griefs and fears’, reminds us that he is with us throughout our lives whether known and remembered or not.

In the second verse, Christ is ‘Source of all our deeds ..the fount [of] springs of love … the ground of all our prayers’. Source, fount, ground all suggest a priority: it is the existence and love of Christ that should motivate our actions, rather than us turning to him once we’ve decided what to do. But it’s not easy to make a habit of that.

In the third verse, which logically perhaps should be the last but isn’t, Christ is ‘the goal of all our hopes, the end to whom we come … our many-mansioned home’. If he initiates our actions, from our ‘unremembered birth’  then he is also the one to whom we come at the hour of our death.

Finally, he is ‘the vision of our lives … light of everlasting light, the bright and morning star’.  In between birth and death, it is Christ who should illuminate those actions that he has already prompted and that will lead us home to him.

Love is his word

The Last Supper, by Ugolino de Nerio (C14)

This weekend’s hymn from Sing Praise is “Love is his word” by Luke Connaughton. The theme is the love of Jesus Christ, as celebrated in the refrain: “Richer than gold is the love of my Lord, better than splendour and wealth”. This idea that God’s love is the true wealth, not a human invention such as ‘money’, is a common one in religious teachings generally, not least in Christianity.  Paul’s words to Timothy come to mind: “In godliness with contentment there is great gain” (1 Timothy 6:6).

Its verses list the ways that Jesus Christ showed (and shows) his love for people. The words are cleverly structured: there are seven verses, a ‘Biblical’ number like the seven signs in John’s gospel or the seven seals of Revelation.  Each starts with a line in the form Love is his X, Love is his Y”, with a last line “Love, only love, is his Y”, and the Y of one verse becomes the X of the next (so, verse 1 ends “Love, only love, is his way” and verse 2 begins “Love is his way, love is his mark”. The two middle lines of each verse elaborate on the ‘Y’. The hymn ends with a verse on Jesus the Word (taking us back to the opening line).

The seven ways that Jesus shows his love then, are: way, mark, sign, news, name, law and word.  His way of love is “feasting with all, fasting alone”; his mark is “sharing his last Passover feast” (the Last Supper before his crucifixion); his sign, as he commanded us to remember him, is “bread for our strength, wine for our joy”. His news, still on the communion feast, is “Do this, lest you forget all my deep sorrow, all my dear blood”. His name is explained as that “we are his own, chosen and called”. His law is “Love one another [as] I have loved you”. And back to the Word, we are reminded that Jesus’ love is also that of the Father and Spirit.

The metre ( & refrain 10.7) is highly unusual and so I presume the tune (‘Cresswell’ by Anthony Milner) was written for it. It’s an easy one to sing, with a memorable refrain in particular, finishing on a high with “better than splendour and wealth”.

Christ is the one who calls

Today’s hymn from Sing Praise is ‘Christ is the one who call’ by Timothy Dudley-Smith. The tune set in the book is ‘Love unknown’ but John chose to sing it to ‘Harewood’ (‘Christ is our cornerstone’). 

In its five verses the hymn explores Christ’s relationship with us. Firstly he calls us as “the one who loved and came” – we believe that Jesus is God, and God is love.  Then he seeks us as the one “to whom our souls are known” – he is intimately within our very being, as well as at work in the world. Then he is “the one who died forsaken and betrayed”, for we must never forget the price he paid for saving us.  Yet he is “the one who rose in glory from the grave” – the promise of forgiveness of sin through the cross is inextricably connected with the promise of eternal life through the resurrection. Finally he is “the one who sends, his story to declare” – the gospels end not with the resurrection but with the disciples being commissioned, whether by their fishing boats or on the mountain, to go and tell others this story of God’s saving love.

There are of course other words to each of the verses besides those I’ve quoted, and the full text is online here. The hymn was new to me, but as a concise summary of the work of Christ and our response to him, it is worth remembering for another occasion.

Ascended Christ

The Ascension painting, St James Bermondsey (John Wood, 1844)

Today is Ascension Day, and the selected hymn from Sing Praise is ‘Ascended Christ, who gained the glory that we sing’ by Christopher Idle.  The tune set with it is ‘Christchurch’ although I found the alternative suggestion of ‘Darwall’s 148th’ (‘Ye holy angels bright’) more appropriate. John took the trouble to compose one specially for the occasion.

Unlike yesterday’s ascension hymn, which I pointed out consisted of statements about Christ, this one is unashamedly a song of praise addressed to him. The first verse uses the same trio of titles as yesterday – Prophet, Priest and King – and I like the last line ‘by many tongues the Church displays your power and praise in all her songs’.

The second verse describes Christ as reigning ‘above each other name’ and verse three looks, as it were, in the other direction, with Christ ‘from your father’s side’ making us new and setting us free. There is a theological question here, whether after the Ascension it is Christ who acts on earth, or the Holy Spirit whom he sent. But that’s getting into discussion of the relationships within the Trinity, always a tricky area. 

In the fourth verse Christ is the one who ‘calls us to belong within one body here’ and notes that ‘in you are alone we are complete’.  It’s always good to be reminded, in this individualistic age, that the Church is ideally regarded as a unity, a single body, not just a group of people sharing mostly the same opinions.

The last line of the last verse is (as printed) ‘beyond all words creation sings the King of kings and Lord of lords’.  I think John sang ‘beyond all worlds’ but that makes equal sense: the true praise of God is more than mere words can express (an idea which leads us towards Pentecost) while the one whom we worship has indeed ascended ‘beyond all worlds’, present in time and space while also being beyond the dimensions we can perceive.